At least once in every man’s life he is faced with a situation that tests and challenges him to his very core. For soldiers serving in the dangerous Panjwa’i district of Afghanistan, those defining moments are frequent and often brutal.
U.S. Army Pfc. Cory Szaro, 19, a mortarman serving with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, Task Force 1-23 Infantry, operating out of Combat Outpost Khenjakak, has spent the past 10 months willingly stepping forward into situations that would challenge other men.
“I have wanted to be an Army infantryman my whole life, it’s just something I have always wanted to do,” Szaro said.
The young soldier and Nashua, N.H., native has served in a variety of roles since coming to Afghanistan by manning the 81mm and 120mm mortars, serving as an M240 and .50-cal gunner, and operating a Minehound metal detector to search for improvised explosive devices.
Szaro credits his service to his grandfathers.
“My grandfathers were both in the Navy in Vietnam and ended up seeing a lot of combat, but I realized that the Navy is not much of a combat branch anymore compared to how the Army is,” Szaro said.
With a strong desire to serve his country and fight America’s enemies Szaro enlisted in the Army Aug. 3, 2011. After graduating basic training Dec. 2, he spent two short months at his home station before deploying to Afghanistan. It would be seven months later that Szaro would face what he calls his most difficult situation in Afghanistan.
During an Afghan National Army-led clearing operation Sept. 3, Szaro’s squad was moving through a village and almost immediately began finding improvised explosive devices. After finding and destroying four IEDs, Szaro’s squad leader found the fifth one by stepping on it.
“I was about 15 meters away from him and the rest of the platoon was on the other side of a wall so it was just my squad on scene,” said Szaro. “At first I thought we had been shot at with a rocket-propelled grenade, I looked for my squad leader but couldn’t find him.”
Szaro could not place the position of his squad leader until he began to cry out in pain from his injuries.
“My first instinct was to run to him, but we have been taught that that is the wrong thing to do because of secondary IEDs,” said Szaro. “Instead I pulled security and pulled out my tourniquet to hand off to the medic once he arrived.”
Once the wounded soldier was stable, Szaro carried him through a series of grape rows and over a wall to get him to the landing zone for the medical evacuation helicopter.
Szaro’s squad leader survived the explosion with an amputation below the left knee.
The young private first class spoke on his experiences in combat and how they have shaped and changed him.
"I think it has made me more aware of mortality. We had a joke going around for the first few months of our deployment that our platoon was invincible because nothing bad ever happened to us, but that incident changed us and it really opened my eyes,” Szaro said.
When asked if he would want to deploy again Szaro said that he would, because he still wants to fight the enemy and serve his country.
Article by 117th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment